Call for tougher adult safeguarding standards after man’s murder

The safeguarding board said the case highlighted "the disparity" between expectations of professionals in adult and child protection cases

Photo: Gary Brigden

Vulnerable adults should be protected in the same way as children at risk of abuse, a safeguarding review into the death of an ex-charity worker has found.

Joseph O’Hanlon, 61, was found beaten to death at his Rochdale home in May 2016. He had a long history of alcohol problems and was well known to statutory and voluntary agencies.

Joe’s ex-partner first made a safeguarding referral in July 2014 over concerns he was being financially exploited by “drinking associates” who visited him at home. Joe’s killer, Anthony Bennett, was with him when council and police professionals visited days before his death. Police said Bennett was one of the people who “took advantage” of Joe’s good nature.

Rochdale Safeguarding Adults Board found professionals had been in contact with Joe 128 times since the initial safeguarding concerns were raised.

‘Reasonable response’

The review concluded services’ response was “reasonable”, and in some cases “excellent”, with professionals working hard to address the risks Joe faced from other individuals who visited him at home. However, it said the case highlighted “the disparity” between expectations of professionals in adult and child protection cases.

Anthony Bennett was with Joe when a housing officer and police community support officer visited a few days before the killing. The officers had never seen Bennett before and with Joe not appearing threatened by the man, no investigation into his background was made.

The review said if Joe had been a child, “there would have been a much greater expectation in relation to the information that followed from that visit and what was then recorded on both police and local authority systems.” This would have included details of Bennett and an assessment of the risks he might have posed to Joe, if he had been a vulnerable child.

The panel urged authorities to consider how adult safeguarding practices could be better aligned with those that exist within child protection services going forward.

‘Tragic story’

The review also said a Care Act assessment should have been completed, even if Joe was not eligible for social care support, because it might have identified information that would have assisted with the safeguarding enquiry.

It recommended that Care Act assessments are always considered when a safeguarding referral is received, as a means of gaining as much information as possible. It also called for safeguarding services to engage with local banks to ensure they recognise the risk of financial exploitation of vulnerable adults and have measures in place to support them.

Jane Booth, independent chair of the safeguarding adults board, said: “This is a particularly tragic story and our deepest sympathies are with the victim’s family and friends. The murder was a terrible crime and the person responsible is rightly service a prison sentence.”

More from Community Care

10 Responses to Call for tougher adult safeguarding standards after man’s murder

  1. chrissie April 4, 2017 at 10:53 am #

    There is a massive gap between care of vulnerable adults and care of children. Abuse in care homes is not treated in the same way as abuse in children’s homes – the police rarely get involved and mostly it is brushed under the carpet – if it gets as far as Court it is mostly settled out of court. When our communities wake up to the reality of abuse and neglect of adults and particularly the elderly we may see a change but until then we have to keep fighting and continue to watch mistreatment, abuse and neglect. Shame on our society.

  2. Fred April 4, 2017 at 11:01 am #

    This may not have happened in Scotland where a proper Adult Protection Act is in place and a thorough code of practice too.
    I doubt there would be any political will at Westminster for such legislation though. The massive slashing of social care funding means many thousands of adults would be subject to adult protection procedures as they would be at risk of serious and chronic neglect through the absence of home care services.

  3. Nikki April 4, 2017 at 12:00 pm #

    The last referral to adult safeguarding I made resulted in a telephone assessment with the service user. There was no visit, no investigation, no risk assessment; even though my assessment identified many risks within the home. The teams are clearly understaffed, but I also feel that adult safeguarding is not taken as seriously as it should. Had this been a child I have no doubt that they would have been removed from the home, such was the seriousness of the risk. No such urgency was apparent for this service user, and due to disability he could not leave the property himself. If he had not had capacity, the court would have been involved. Because he did have capacity no action was taken, yet he was effectively being kept a prisoner inside one room. There needs to be a system in place for adult protection, and the same level of urgency applied as for child protection.

  4. Maharg April 4, 2017 at 12:17 pm #

    Working in safeguarding adults who is a list of the interventions that can be considered when intervening. And though it is clear that people wish us to intervene. We are limited by the powers laid out below. So unless somebody has got magic wand, and the person clearly can have interventions laid upon them, due to one of the conditions below, we are limited to what we can do, irrespective of how vulnerable the people argue and perceive that individual is.


    Mental Capacity Act (MCA) 2005
    • A person must be assumed to have capacity until it is established otherwise (Section 1).
    • The 5 principles of the MCA 2005 apply.
    • An adult is deemed to not have capacity if they are unable to understand the information relevant to the decision, unable to retain the information, unable to weigh up the pros and cons in relation to the decision and unable to communicate their decision in some way (Section 3).
    • MCA 2005 applies to individuals aged 16 and over.
    • If an individual is deemed not to have capacity, a best interest decision can be made, in line with the MCA 2005 best interest checklist.
    • Adults who are vulnerable but are deemed to have capacity fall outside of the MCA 2005.
    • Adults with capacity have a right to make unwise decisions.

    Can a intervention come from

    Mental Health Act 1983
    • If a person is experiencing mental disorder to such a degree that warrants detention in hospital for assessment or they ought to be detained in the interest of their own safety or with a view to protecting others, then an application for admission for assessment can be made (Section 2).
    • A person with a learning disability alone can only be detained for treatment or made subject to a guardianship order if the learning disability is associated with abnormally aggressive or seriously irresponsible conduct (Section 3).
    • Guardianship orders – guardians can dictate where a person lives & that they should attend a specific place where medical treatment is available but cannot enforce or consent to medical treatment on that persons behalf. Guardians have no control over money or property (Section 7).

    Is the person acting in a manner that is illegal, unlawful or detectable

    • Police can detain a person for up to 72 hours if it’s felt a person is suffering mental disorder and is in immediate need of care/control, for the purposes of examination by medical professional or to be interviewed by an Approved Mental Health Professional (Section 136).

    Relevant criminal charges or sanctions.
    • Consideration should always be given to Article 5 of European Convention on Humans Rights (ECHR) – Right to liberty and security.
    • Article 5 allows for the legal detention of an individual by police or the court.

    Can and intervention comply with

    Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998
    • The HRA 1998 enshrines the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic law.
    • The HRA 1998 gives individuals certain freedoms and rights which makes it unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right.
    • Article 5 of the ECHR upholds a person’s right to liberty and security, except in specific circumstances

    are subject to

    Deprivation of Liberty (DoLS)
    • For an adult who experiences an element of confinement in a restricted space, for an unspecified amount of time & the person does not have capacity to consent to these arrangements.
    • Under S.4B DoL is authorised for necessary life-sustaining treatment if certain criteria are met (please see legislation).
    • DoLS for people in the community would need to go via the Court of Protection

    This one could be magical. If it did not need to comply with all the above

    Inherent Jurisdiction
    • Inherent Jurisdiction can only be applied to circumstances that fall outside of the scope of the MCA 2005.
    • The High Court can use inherent jurisdiction to intervene to protect vulnerable adults where there is clear and strong evidence that the individual is unable to make a free decision or is incapacitated or disabled from giving or expressing real and genuine consent.
    • Inherent jurisdiction allows the High Court to intervene by freezing property or money, recover funds, set aside assets or funds procured by undue influence, duress or fraud or forcibly remove a person into accommodation with a locked door policy.
    • Inherent jurisdiction is available when vulnerability is a result of
    – Mental incapacity
    – Inability through physical impairment to communicate a decision or;
    – External factors such as coercion, constraint, undue influences or anything else that deprives the individual of the capacity to make a decision
    • Inherent jurisdiction is rarely used because it breaches human rights.
    • Consideration should always be given to the Care Act 2014 principles of proportionality, empowerment, partnership, protection, accountability and prevention. In accordance with these principles, inherent jurisdiction is a ‘last port of call’ and should not be pursued lightly.

    This collective list of legislation and interventions has been generated as there is an assumption by others that we have the power to sweep people from the streets impose control ,interventions and remove individuals autonomy and poor choice making. If that were the true, and we have the legislation on a par with the Children act. Potential interventions that would reduce the death of individuals as listed in the original article may be more readily prevented , or not. Therefore, we are in a position where we are answerable after the fact why we did nothing, it has been argued you can see the state of society, by the way it manages the care of the vulnerable. And then we got rid of the asylum’s introduce a raft of legislation and promoted human rights and yet, like children services we still fail and are accountable to why we did not intervene earlier, later gave people the autonomy to make poor decisions.

    • Elle April 4, 2017 at 9:09 pm #

      Excellent response. There’s a raft of reasons why the two are incomparable, the legislation being one.

    • Jo April 21, 2017 at 6:43 am #

      Great response. But still we could be better at identifying where someone is under coercive control and how this affects capacity. And with mate crime, this does come into play. The police have a role to play also, not necessarily in bringing criminal charges, but they can help protect people (eg. with extra monitoring).

    • Helen April 21, 2017 at 5:25 pm #

      Excellent reply

  5. Jason M April 5, 2017 at 2:24 pm #

    I agree, the comparison is not particularly helpful, but perhaps we in Adult teams could learn from the rigour and persistence Children’s services colleagues demonstrate (I think). Were the follow up actions from the safeguarding enquiries clear and actions set out as to be implemented continually? Were there reviews covering these concerns? Or did they fade over time, as does happen? One s42 does not make a lifelong vulnerable adult. And was mental capacity clear in this case? If this was doubted and the follow up was missing, there was no sound basis for not intervening, and there is room for improvement. There is room for improvement in the organization and funding of good quality front line practice, too.

  6. Steve Clay April 11, 2017 at 4:02 pm #

    I think the author comparing Children v Adult interventions is completely misleading. Adult Safeguarding is now about achieving Outcomes. Once done the statutory duty of the Local Authority under the Care Act 2014 ceases even if the adult with care and support needs is still at risk. Many authorities have moved away from substantiating abuse or neglect as this is not an Outcome of the S42 enquiry as defined in Chapter 14 of the statutory Care Act guidance.
    The golden thread of the Act is Making Safeguarding Personal…achieving the Outcomes the person wishes not imposing outcomes that professionals think would benefit to try to remove frisk or keep Joe safe.
    If Joe was a capacitated adult what right have professionals to intervene in his life?
    Safeguarding is not legislatively fit for the protection of Joe in this case.

    To compare the case to Child Protection is just wrong…the 2 do not equate

  7. cath Erine April 12, 2017 at 9:48 am #

    I agree the 2 are very different, however to have meaningful conversations with the adults about risks we need to know what they are. Our move to outcomes based safeguarding may be encouraging workers to move away from risk assessments, except in cases in care settings or involving workers?
    I would support thorough risk assessments as part of all our safeguarding worker – whether with adults or children.